This final post in the Salesforce Standard Reporting series outlines a selection of best practice concepts and techniques to be considered in the delivery of on-platform reporting solutions that maximise the value of the standard reporting tools.
The key message of this series is simple; a solid understanding of how the Salesforce standard reporting tools work in practice, and the reporting patterns supported, can avoid the necessity to employ additional, expensive off-platform reporting tools. The earlier this thinking is applied, the greater the likelihood of success.
Best Practice Considerations
In no significant order, the following points provide a non-exhaustive selection for consideration.
- Solution Design
- Data Model
- Sharing Model
- Report Types
- Art of the Possible
- Active not Passive
Perhaps the most obvious point, but equally a common oversight, is the consideration of key performance indicators during the solution design phase. This approach shouldn’t entail a full coverage of all reporting requirements; instead a selection of exemplar reporting use cases that represent a broad set of required outputs should be documented in clear concise terms and factored into the overarching solution design. This early consideration mitigates the inherent risk of the classic “reporting workshop” held once the solution design is no longer emergent; the impact of which can often be the introduction of off-platform reporting solutions with their cost and security implications.
A Salesforce data model, in physical terms, will not necessarily comply to standard relational database normalisation principles, other factors must be considered. The sharing model is one such consideration, where record access or indeed object access permissions mandate a deviation from the standard 3rd normal form. Reporting is another significant area of consideration; constraints in respect to the depth of object relational hierarchies and the ability to traverse parent-to-child relationships must be accommodated within the data model design to maximise the potential of the standard reporting tools. Techniques in this regard include reporting convenience lookups, which are added to bridge parent-to-child and sibling relationships, and restructuring hierarchical data to limit the depth of hierarchy to four levels.
The standard reporting tools fully respect the implemented sharing model and as such a complex, over-specified sharing model design can inhibit the potential use. The sharing model design often reflects the transactional processing requirements for record visibility, but not necessarily the reporting need. To avoid creative workarounds during report production it is imperative that the sharing model design reflects both the former and the latter requirements.
Standard Report Types are maintained by the platform and require zero administration, new fields are exposed automatically. As such, wherever possible build reports using standard report types. Custom Report Types require ongoing maintenance, but can be highly useful in providing a clear data-set for a focused purpose or where the standard report types are insufficient. The implementation of a limited number of complementary custom report types with clear descriptions that adhere to a strict naming convention is the best practice approach. A standardised approach here promotes re-use. A typical implementation for reporting on the Salesforce platform involves end-users developing their own reports, for this to work efficiently they should be provided with a clear set of intuitive report types upon which to work.
Given that reports are often developed by business users and not administrators or developers, it can be challenging to maintain an ordered state. To mitigate this risk, a strict naming convention and structure should be adopted for report folders and exemplar reports should be provided that exhibit a standardised approach to report naming (and description). It is a best practice to conduct periodic reviews of the reporting environment with the business users to ensure standards are applied, inefficiencies are avoided (such as duplication), platform features are being exploited optimally and ongoing training requirements are identified and addressed.
Clear communication in regard to the capabilities and constraints of the standard reporting tools is imperative to the successful implementation of a reporting solution. A demonstration environment configured with contextualised reports and dashboards which showcase the art-of-the-possible can be an effective communication tool. Business users and the project team should have access to the demo org to explore the possibilities and to establish their own frame of reference.
This approach can aid understanding (and therefore increase usage) of less obvious concepts such as historical trend reporting, reporting snapshots, dynamic dashboards, dashboard filters and joined reports.
A common oversight in the implementation of an effective on-platform reporting solution is the visibility of reports. Reports should not be hidden away on the Reports tab, instead all possible entry points and display options should be considered as part of an overarching report visibility model. Examples in regard to entry points include custom links and buttons on detail pages, perhaps with some level of parameterisation. Examples in regard to display options include report charts added to detail pages (Embedded Analytics) and console sidebars (Summer ’15 feature). A further consideration is the inclusion of report charts in Visualforce pages (via the reportChart component), this approach avoids the requirement to address the underlying data directly in Apex code where the reporting engine can be applied.
Reports and analytics can provide important data visualisations and business insight that should serve as the basis for employee collaboration. An effective Chatter implementation model should therefore encourage communication and sharing around reports and dashboards such that the internal conversation is captured.
Reports and analytics are typically implemented to deliver outputs in a passive state, i.e. the report runs on-demand or by schedule and the output is provided. A final best practice to consider is the active state where report outputs are evaluated against defined conditions and action (email, post, Apex script etc.) is taken automatically. Reporting Notifications provide active state options that can be a powerful tool in reducing report-noise and driving actions proactively from significant data conditions.